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North Korea: On 21 March at 0930 local time, the Korean Central Broadcasting Station made the following unscheduled announcement:

"We inform all soldiers and residents!

"This is an air raid warning. This is an air raid warning. This is an air raid warning. Military units and units of all levels must quickly take measures to prevent damage from the enemy's air strikes."

"This is an air raid warning. This is an air raid warning. This is an air raid warning. Military units and units of all levels must quickly take measures to prevent damage from the enemy's air strikes. This is the Korean People's Army Broadcasting Station."

At 1028 local time the Korean Central Broadcasting Station carried a second unscheduled announcement:

"This is the Korean People's Army Broadcasting Station. We inform all residents and soldiers: The air raid warning is lifted. The air raid warning is lifted. The air raid warning is lifted."

Comment: According to defectors queried by the Daily NK, this was the first use of the public radio system for broadcasting an air raid warning. It was a test because it was too brief to be a civil defense evacuation drill. In large cities they take up to a full day. This is significant because air raid warnings are never broadcast. This was probably a no-notice drill in response to the US announcement about B-52s operating over South Korea.

Air raid warnings were more common in the 1990s, but all were sent via the "Third Broadcast" which is a cable radio system, only accessible in North Korea. The Korean People's Army Broadcasting Station only has been known to use the Third Broadcast.

The use of a nationwide radio broadcast implies the North's leaders expect they will need such a system at a time when people would be away from their homes, in fields, on the street or in public conveyances. They expect the population to respond swiftly according to plan without advance warning. That is uncommonly realistic preparation. The B-52 announcement had effect.

North Korean drones. The Korean Central News Agency reported on 20 March that North Korea launched a drone attack on a simulated South Korean target. The press item touted that Kim Jong Un personally supervised the operation. The drone strike successfully shot down a target mimicking a South Korean cruise missile.

Comment: It is not clear just what transpired in the exercise, whether a drone actually flew. However, South Korean news sources in February 2012 reported North Korea had acquired older US drones, MQM-107D Streaker target drones built by Raytheon, from a Middle Eastern country. South Korea's Yonhap reported they possibly came from Syria. Photos of the drone are available on the Internet.

The North Koreans are extremely good at tinkering with older systems and finding value in materials that would end up on the cutting room floor in the US. Their entire missile program evolved from tinkering with obsolescent systems. They certainly have the science to boost the performance and capabilities of a target drone.

The North Korean news report disclosed information about the status of a fairly new weapons project. They are aware of the threat from Allied cruise missiles and have been working to counter them and probably build their own for over a year.

Pakistan: The Presidency announced that the general election for the 342-member National Assembly will be held on 11 May.

Comment: As of this week all provincial parliaments have dissolved so the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will develop a full schedule for the campaign and the elections. ECP Secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan said the commission will announce the election schedule on 23 March.

Iraq: Numerous news agencies have reported the more than a dozen car bombs and suicide detonations in Shiite Muslim districts and other areas of Baghdad on the 19th that killed nearly 60 people.

An al-Qaida-affiliated group, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attacks on 20 March.

Comment: al Qaida made sure everyone knows it is back and poses a threat to the pro-Iranian al Maliki government.

Syria: The latest from Aleppo is that the alleged chemical weapons attack almost certainly did not feature a lethal agent proscribed under international convention, say chemical weapons experts after reviewing the available evidence. Video footage and eyewitness accounts indicate that if a chemical agent was used it most likely was a riot-control agent, according to press reports.

Comment: There is a definitional problem not generally recognized. Syrian chemical warfare doctrine is derived from Soviet doctrine. It classifies tear gas and other crowd-control agents as chemical weapons. Thus any Syrian opposition fighters who defected from the Syrian Army would decry the use of crowd-control agents as chemical weapons.

Mali: "In the final analysis the emperor of the desert, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who had been reported dead by the Chadian Government on 2 March, is alive," according to a press report that provided details of his movements. He is a terrorist and smuggler who broke with al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb last year.

France-Mali: Update. French troops will begin pulling out of Mali "from the end of April", French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told parliament on Wednesday.

Ayrault said a meeting next Monday between lawmakers in France's National Assembly and Senate would assess the involvement of French troops to help flush out Islamist rebels in Mali "even if our troops will begin coming home from the end of April."

Comment: The French want out and appear determined to avoid mission creep.

Cyprus: Update. Banks will stay closed until at least 26 March, a Central Bank official said. They have been closed since 16 March to prevent a run. The Cypriot finance minister, Michael Sarris, held inconclusive negotiations with top Russian officials on Wednesday, but said he would stay in Moscow 'as long as it takes' to reach a deal."

Comment: Riots have been averted, but possibly not the collapse of some Cypriot banks, next week. Some experts have suggested that the EU-supported tax on depositors in Cyprus was a test of that proposal as possibly applicable to other "bailout" countries.

End of NightWatch

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